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Noted New York writer, Fran Lebowitz, was recently quoted in the New York Observer as saying, “No one can afford to live in New York! You just stay here, and, as long as you’re not in jail, you’re living in New York.” With the battle over deciding to pay rent or trying to mayyybbeee go to the dentist for the first time in five years constantly looming over your head, working out at a gym in the city seems to be an added luxury.

But you don’t have to sacrifice your budget for healthy living. IMG_6660

The city is a beautiful amalgamation of architecture, nature, and circumstance that can all be used to your advantage if you’ve got the intention. So let’s look past New York’s expensive exterior and find our own personal, free gym in this super costly city. (As always, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen!)

Cardio Commute: With the amount New Yorkers walk, it’s always easy to log a good amount of cardio by merely going to work. But what if you want an extra boost to your already pedometer-busting commute? One of my favorite things to do when I have the time is to get off one subway stop too soon. You can easily add ten blocks to your average commute and also end up seeing a part of the city you usually miss.


Queensboro Bridge: Also known as the 59th Street Bridge, this is an excellent landmark for your long cardio stretch. If you live in Queens, from about the 39th Avenue stop on the N/Q train across the bridge and back again is four miles – if you’re coming from Manhattan, one pass over to Queens and back will log you about two miles. (Brooklyners can always use the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattanites have either option.) Using landmarks like the bridge can help pass the time, keep you focused, and motivate you to juusssst go an extra 50 feet. The added bonus of a slight uphill/downhill forces you to dynamically work on your stride in a way the treadmill just can’t replicate. Not to mention the funky fresh views of Roosevelt Island and the East River.

Central Park: Okay, obvious choice, but you just can’t neglect this natural wonder. Instead of just looping the park, throw in some interval training. Map out your favorite landmarks about a mile away from each other and include sets of lunges, planks, push ups, squats, or your favorite plyometric series. Here’s an example of what you could do:

Stop 1: Planks

Hold forearm plank for 60 seconds. Mountain climber in forearm plank alternating right (counts as one) and left (that’s two). Do 3 sets of 16. Hold forearm plank for 60 seconds.

Stop 2: Prisoner Squats

Legs wide apart, knees tracking over toes, hands behind head with elbows wide. Deep plie in the legs sending your butt back and keeping your chest lifted, then straighten. That’s one. Do 2 sets of 25.

Stop 3: Step Ups Step Ups

Find an empty bench and stand right in front of it. Step up all the way onto the bench to straighten your standing leg; arms coming above your head each time. Step back down on the ground. Repeat 25 times on the right, then 25 times on the left. 

The Highline: One of NYC’s prettiest places to work out. Not only can you go for a jog or brisk walk along the 20 block elevated train tracks, but you can get a heart rate spike at the start of your standard cardio by using the stair entrance on 14th Street. Take a few brisk runs up and down the stairs before heading out onto the tracks. If you want to really go the extra mile, try this series:

Run up steps.

16 jumping jacks at the top.

Run down the steps.

Stabilize your feet on the first or second step, hands on the ground for a plank; do 15

push ups from this position.

Plank Push Up

Run up steps.

16 jumping jacks at the top.

Run down steps.

8 Burpees.

Run up steps and start your jog!

What are other NYC landmarks you creatively use to get fit? What are your favorite areas of the city to use as your gym?

Courtney is an actress, singer, dancer, writer, personal trainer, fitness instructor, and President & co-founder of The Fishbowl Collective, a group of NYC artists creating, connecting, and producing new theatrical work.

© Craig Hanson Photography |

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7 years ago

The Nike Training Club app has great workouts that don’t require much space or equipment – good for working out in small NYC apartments!

7 years ago
Reply to  Cara

Love that! Sounds great for when it gets colder out – I’ll have to check it out. Thanks lady!